Alternative assessment of Duterte admin (2)
(A final assessment of the Duterte administration by the Philippine Statistics Authority’s Statistical Indicators on Philippine Development will be released by next month. Meanwhile, this column provides an assessment with a human face—the drug case against Sen. Leila de Lima, which has deprived her of her liberty during all but the first six months of her six-year senatorial term.)
The behavior of the executive branch, starting with President Duterte who vowed publicly that he would see De Lima jailed, and his secretary of justice and the agencies under them, illustrate how the rule of law, and the powers of the executive, have been grossly abused by his administration. No wonder the Philippines’ score in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index plunged from 0.53 in 2015 (before Mr. Duterte) to 0.46 in 2021, affecting our regional and world rankings in the process—we deteriorated from ninth to 13th out of 15 countries in the region, and from 51st (out of 102) to 102nd (out of 139) during the period.
Let us examine the legislature, starting with the House of Representatives. Egged on by the President’s frequent diatribes against De Lima, this supposedly independent branch held a series of hearings, starting in 2016, which turned out to be like kangaroo courts. The head of the congressional committee, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, essentially turned over the chair to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who then paraded a line of convicted drug felons with life sentences who testified against De Lima—felons who had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by doing so (whose perks in Bilibid were terminated by De Lima when she was secretary of justice, and there is a note from Aguirre to the prison officers to treat them kindly).
Add to that several congressmen, like Harry Roque who was amply rewarded by Mr. Duterte, taking gleeful potshots against De Lima; and then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (he with the mistress) threatening to show a sex video starring De Lima. If I remember correctly, his threat came to naught, because the Senate “tsked-tsked” their congressional counterparts to observe parliamentary courtesy toward their Senate colleague. Nevertheless, the video was shown on YouTube, with other videos showing De Lima interacting with the drug lords. All obviously fake—the sex video had her face superimposed on somebody else’s body.
It was a deliberate campaign to destroy De Lima’s reputation—orchestrated by the executive, with a complicit legislature. People who abused their powers. Given that De Lima lost her reelection bid, it was successful.
The Senate’s role in the De Lima case was only marginally less shameful than the House. One can only recall how fast she was removed and replaced from the Senate committee she headed that was investigating the Davao (Duterte) Death Squads; how the witness Edgar Matobato, who swore to all these deaths (a member of the DDS), was so contemptuously treated and disbelieved.
Last week, many senators graciously praised De Lima. But where were they when she most needed them? Why didn’t they ask for her Zoom presence in their deliberations? I am told (off the record) that the resolution would be passed if she agreed to play nice with the President during her appearances. No deal.
An independent legislature is mandated by the Constitution. You think, Reader, this mandate was observed during the Duterte administration?
How about an independent judiciary? Consider: It has been more than five years that De Lima has been jailed, and her application for bail has not been resolved. Then, too, there is the matter of the four or five judges who inhibited themselves (for very lame reasons like they were a classmate or were related somehow to the fiscals); or leaning over backwards to accommodate the prosecution.
And then you have a Supreme Court who in their haste to deny De Lima’s appeal, or to please the appointing power, could not even agree on what the charges were in the cases against her? And disregarded their own previous decisions that in drug-related cases, it was necessary to produce the drugs that linked the defendant to the case.
There you have it: The De Lima case shows you the depths to which a government (and its branches) can descend. But it also shows us how easily a democracy can be converted into an autocracy. And alas, it shows us how a people can be misled into making the wrong choices with respect to their leaders.
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